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Freshman forward Anuli Okafor races a Harvard midfielder to the ball during the game at Penn Park on Sept. 24. Credit: Michael Palacios

In a season full of ties, the Red and Blue added one more to that tally today after sharing the points with No. 16 Harvard in a 1-1 draw.

Coming off its first loss of the season, Penn women’s soccer (2-1-6) was charged with the difficult task of beginning Ivy League play on Saturday by hosting the only undefeated and ranked team in the conference: Harvard (6-0-2).

The first 15 minutes of the game were marked by an exchange of chances. On the first corner of the game, Penn senior forward Sizzy Lawton saw her header get tipped over the crossbar in a reaction save by Harvard’s senior goalie Hannah Gardner. Similarly, Crimson senior forward Angela Caloia, who was left unmarked inside the 18, found her shot get pushed just wide of the near post by Penn’s junior goalie Laurence Gladu.

During a half in which Penn was plagued by its lack of offensive production, the Quakers relied on the counterattack. They were rewarded by Harvard sophomore defender Jade Rose entering the referee’s book with a yellow card after taking down Penn’s freshman forward Anuli Okafor on a breakaway. 

On the other end of the field, Penn’s stout defensive unit bent but didn't break, holding the Crimson to no goals despite a 9-2 shot attempt advantage.

The second half was very similar to the first as Harvard continued to dominate Penn with possession and offensive production. Eventually, Harvard opened up the scoring when senior midfielder Sophie Hirst saw her effort from 20 yards out ricochet into the goal from off the crossbar in the 56th minute. Less than a minute later, Penn responded with a goal of its own when senior midfielder Sara Readinger scored off of a Penn corner that bounced into the middle of the six-yard box.

“It was really huge,” Readinger said. “I think it was just really exciting because we were working so hard the entire game. I feel like it was just a product of all the hard work that all my teammates put in, so just actually getting [the ball] into the net was just a big, big deal.”

The goal rejuvenated the team, a motivation that became apparent as the defense smothered the Harvard attack, forcing them into difficult shooting angles. With 19 minutes to play, Gladu made a leaping save that denied Harvard sophomore midfielder Hannah Bebar the winning goal. The team also caught the lucky break it needed to see out the game as Harvard saw its late-game shot bounce off the post for a goal kick.

In her first season as the Penn women’s soccer coach, Dr. Krissy Turner has emphasized the defensive side of the ball to impressive results. Over nine games, the unit has given up just nine goals and was highlighted on Saturday by Harvard's inability to get shots off even with their extended bouts of possession. And while she is satisfied with the tie against Harvard, she has her eyes set on a bigger prize: winning the Ivy League.

“I think one of the most important things is not to give up a lot of goals,” Turner said. “[W]e need to get some shutouts to build momentum towards each week’s game. I think that if we can get shutouts, we have a chance to take first place."